Schools of Architecture, in their departments of civic design, teach town planning which creates the general impression, that both are the same. The Encyclopaedia Britannica which devotes pages to City Planning is significantly silent on the subject of civic design. Nor has any history of civic art yet been published, as affirmed by Sir Alfred Richardson, President of the Royal Academy at the Town Planning Institute, last year. Hugh Wilson considers civic design as town planning in the widest sense. Henry Churchill defined it as town planning in three dimensions. According to Trystan Edwards, civic design is more than the provision of healthy houses. Philosopher Robinson in his ‘city Planning’ published 50 years ago, construes it as architecture guided and controlled to create “tout ensemble”.
Civic design is not a rich overlay of urban embroidery attracting the eye from worn-out squalor of the civic organism. It is the art of securing and providing the correct setting and perspective to every component necessary for urban living and making it pleasant and artistic. The city is the people, says Henry Churchill, and civic design should cover every endeavour that seeks to control and direct the harmonious relationship of one part to the other. It is the conscious appreciation, definitely expressed, of the importance that should be attached to the placing of architecture and works of art about a town. Disconnected architecture annihilates its surroundings. It would, therefore be nearer the truth to define Civic Design as the Architecture of Urbanism. It is the art that ‘governs the siting and appearance of every material object from the lamp standard and the side walk to the community centre and town hall, the parks and playgrounds necessary for the efficient functioning and progress of the modern urban community.
Civic design should take care of topography; give variety in the type and size of streets, whether arterial highway, business thoroughfare, a straight or curved or dead end, residential streets; ensure uniformity of architecture and planting within the confines of each, permitting variation from street to street; control the placing of open places and public structures with an eye for their effect on their surroundings and each other. It means above all, three dimensional thinking. The ground plan of a city, no matter how fine, is completely meaningless to the person walking through it unless it is also expressed in the third dimension. The ground plan controls only the great general movement of the people and things. The particular development of the particular street or square is what makes the city pleasant or unpleasant and this means not so much control of architecture of individual buildings as it does the control of bulk, skyline and placing. In fact control of architecture of individual structure is likely to prove stultifying and a bar to progress in architectural design. Although we have never really answered the question—what kind of a city we are aspiring for, every one admits that the end should be liveable city, suited to modern living. Civic design should, therefore, be the expression of the collective purpose of the people who live in an urban community.
Ever since mankind abandoned nomadic life and settled in groups, the lords, temporal and spiritual, paid attention to the creation of magnificent monuments. The dawn of democracy shifted the importance to industrial and business enterprises and individual residences which dominate our urban townscape today. So through the centuries the purpose of planning has shifted from military security to commercial prosperity and to aesthetic expression and public welfare. As civics embraces whatever affects the well-being of social cooperative units. civic design now covers every aspect of urban living—living well and artistically. But independence and mechanisation in turn have brought about a degree of confusion and chaos in our townscape. For we are yet to learn that art, uncontrolled, misguided and emanating from unphilosophic type of mind is art thrown away. We have artists innumerable but they do not attach sufficient importance to such considerations as local association or subjugation to a whole. The times when one Baron Housemann could create magnificence to a city will never return. Civic art and urban landscape for better or worse will have to depend on the taste and temper of the common man. This is at once the hope and despair of the future of our cities and civic beauty.
If civic design is the art that ensures the proper design and setting for every item of the civic organism and the basis for their correct perspective, it should be governed by aspect of living, working, recreation and communications, the four constituents of urban living. Housing, abodes of commerce and manufacture, the road system and transport, parks and play grounds and recreation centres should all be placed and executed artfully. As the urban community is not a static phenomenon but an evolving complex civic design should visualise changes. An exact appreciation of the current trends and an intelligent appraisal of the course the urban organism will take, are both essential to ensure civic design the place it deserves. This renders the art more difficult than is generally supposed.
The beauty of a town is, above all, dependent on the beauty of its main thoroughfares. We must admit that even in the finest cities which we can mention there are only occasional examples of this beauty. Under these circumstances it is not possible to erect buildings which shall be, as it were, set in a suitable framework of harmonious lines. The beauty of a town is also, and perhaps mainly influenced by the direction and aspect of its principal thoroughfares. If we examine closely the formation of a large modern town, we shall be astonished to notice how far the effect of light—the principal element of beauty—has been overlooked. This principle of considering the aspect of large frontages with regard to the direction of the sun’s rays was not lost sight of at any period of the great history of the art which, since the most remote civilizations of Asia and Africa, has produced so many buildings of unsurpassed beauty. Consider from this point of view the place de la Concorde in Paris. Its monuments are admirably placed and the lighting, which has been carefully studied by experts, shows up to the best advantage the nobility of their lines. Not a single slip has been made in this respect, and the result is universally acknowledged as very closely approaching perfection. The buildings on which in days gone by the deepest thought was expended before they were erected, remain as wonderful examples of what human genius can produce. In which of our modern towns can we not point out at will, large buildings, the most beautiful facades of which are plunged in shadow or but faintly lighted up by occasional glimmers of sunshine. Very few of our large cities are exempt form this reproach.
Apart from an artist and beautifier, the sun is recognised by modern science as a ruling factor in the life of the individual, due to its great powers of destroying microbes. Why should our residential streets, alleys and cul-de-sacs conceal our homes from this true health giver? It is for civic design to answer. “The joy and pain of urban existence, the comfort or hardship of it, its efficacy or failure, are influenced by the wisdom or thoroughness with which the streets are plotted”, said Professor Robinson in his ‘City Planning’ fifty years ago, long before mechanised transport succeeded in strangulating city life and a fatiguing ordeal of travel became a regular part of the daily life of the urban dweller which only increases the significance of his sayings. The street is more than a passage way—it is a channel of common life. Thus steadily the street gains a new dignity and value. No more it can be despised. It makes the boundaries of our homes, it gives us our outlook upon the world. When we study how best to plan the streets, the minor streets as well, we have no mean subject. In fact, the streets make the cities what they are. The street then is to be thought of not as a line in the drawing but as a living thing.
Movement is an integral part of urban living and the channels of communication the roads and streets—should be efficient to convey pedestrians, goods, vehicular traffic, which the pattern of urban life demands. This also covers the transport system. Mechanised transport has rendered the internal communication system irksome and grossly inadequate and congestion has made the transport system a fatiguing ordeal to be suffered daily by the urban worker. Daily travel under difficult conditions create undesirable effect on the health and habits of workers. The benefit of high speed which our automobiles are capable of, are denied to users. Traffic accidents and traffic regulations are increasing in all urban areas. Urban transport systems only get bottled in our roads and intersections. Motor transport is gradually strangling our cities and forcing urban folk to adopt a new way of life based upon urban inversions, to escape the ever-pursuing, ever-growing traffic monster. Increasing production of auto mobiles and their ever-increasing ownership has made our urban road system an impediment for movement than a facility. Urban parking problem has become so acute as to defy our attempts at solution. It is for civic design, boldly conceived, and intelligently applied, to make urban roads and streets serve the purpose for which they are intended. Traffic jams and accidents, traffic regulations and mechanical aids like flyover bridges, subways, etc., are obvious defects of faulty civic design. The problem is so acute that Professor Myles Wright devoted his entire paper read before the Royal Institute of British Architects in December 1956 to “Motor Vehicles and Civic Design” and suggested the re-shaping of the road system for the motor-age. Ir our urban organism is reared on an appropriate structural basis the problems will not defy solution.
Modern urban living, with its noise and dust and the dangers of street locomotion with its maddening haste, call aloud for the space apart. The importance of preserving open spaces as parks and play grounds and as lungs of great modern cities for the benefit of the people who are living more and more collected in masses needs no advocacy. They are of many kinds. There is the small garden and the children’s playground which ought to be found within a short distance of every one’s door. The importance of such lungs and air-holes cannot be overestimated. In business localities they are to be used by employees during dinner hour. The best form of play ground is a grove of trees, which children prefer to the high walled school play ground that looks like a prison. The natural features of the larger parks should be carefully preserved and artificiality should be strictly avoided.
Parks and aesthetic amenities are necessary for the physique and working power of the worker and his progeny. Pleasant parks and boulevards reduce the strain of modern urban living. Public parks and open spaces are also necessary to secure the quality of restfulness essential to a well ordered town. Planning specialists agree that park laid on the radial principle ensures an unbroken current of fresh air into the city, takes the least land where it is most expensive and the most on the agricultural fringe. It ensures an expanding proportion of park as the population increases. Apart from playing fields, river banks, low-lying meadows, hills if any, least expensive to acquire, should be artistically incorporated into the urban community. In all cases, from the standpoint of health alone there ought to be broad, leafy parkways and boulevards to act as connective air-ducts intersecting or skirting these parks, leading from the heart of the city to the open country. These wedges of greenery may not defeat slums, but would stem them.
Parks and gardens should be planned in relation to their surroundings and the claims of landscape architect should be recognised if their arrangement should look orderly and natural like the parks of Paris where everything appears to fall into such orderly progression as to suggest that each park and garden occupies the only possible position for it. A knowledge of traditional design, necessities of the site, local requirements and the motif to be expressed should be clearly appreciated prior to planning.
Even in the 17th century the importance of avenues and parks in civic design was recognised. The Jesuit poet, Rene Rapid said that when you step out of the garden, the park must at once appear as a stage formally arranged, the trees must line the avenues—five deep in regular arrangement each side, and the avenues must be straight: the paths must be of fine sand or closely mown grass and at the sides the beeches or cypresses must be clipped so that they are like walls. He brought out the value of two-dimensional form in open spaces as a constant to the three-dimensional form of buildings and its intricate patterning of plant and paving material as a model for a new urban canvas to be seen from the first floor drawing rooms of the town. By the time Wordsworth and Coleridge published their ballads in 1798, England had recognised landscape on a regional scale as an essential part of man’s cultural environment.
“All that is ugly weakens and afflicts man” said Nietzsche and the Hon’ble Justice Neville at the first Town Planning Conference at the R.I.B.A. in 1910 went a step further to affirm “we do require a very large amount of beauty in our towns to keep our minds healthy and to keep our brains sane”.
“The glory of a city is its grandeur, the gracious width of its avenues, the adjusted proportions of its squares, and accompanying these, of necessity, healthy spaciousness and ordered amenities”. In this statement of Prof. Beresford Pile, I would like to underline the word ‘ordered’.
Urban organism requires, besides thoroughfares, parks and playgrounds, fountains, statuary, lamp posts, kiosks and other embellishments both for efficiency and for enhancing the appearance of the townscape. From the railings and lamp posts to triumphal arches, the fundamental criteria must be their necessity. Appropriateness of design and the suitability of the setting for today and tomorrow come next. The plethora of statues and monuments that are dumped haphazard about our streets and squares do nothing towards enhancing the beauty and interest of the city. More often they escape notice amid a crowd of vehicles and with no adequate background. No better example than the Trafalgar square need be cited. The only public place of any dimension in London it has got its layout spoiled by new buildings and alterations to the old ones. It has in fact been turned into a caricature of a traffic place by the traffic itself. Unless proper vigil is maintained the object of creation will get defeated. Fountains are at their best in the sunlight, but lend themselves to artificial illumination. The advent of electric lighting has not obviated the need for lamp posts, but considerable improvement in design is possible and possible and necessary. To this list, Dr. Lanchester would add, provision for and treatment of, those temporary decorations which accompany the festivities.
The market place has been the centre of city life from very early times and has now assumed the purpose of the housewives’ club during day and a recreation place for relaxation and amusement at night. A trip should not be nerve-wracking experience in an atmosphere of noise, disorder and ugliness but rather a pleasant occasion on which one can shop at leisure or meet friends in attractive surroundings with provision for children to play in safe while mother is making her purchase or even gossiping. The shopping centre design should be related to traffic and parking problems, serious today. Car parks and bus stops must be planned in close proximity. The American standard is that no shop should be more than a three minutes walk from car or bus. The spaces within s hopping centre are important in creating a right atmosphere for the enjoyment of shopping. The layout will vary according to site condition, climate and local requirements. Shop buildings represent a particular type with a very definite function, if they must operate to the satisfaction of the trader and the customer. A satisfying townscape can be produced from quite uninteresting buildings provided there is a feeling of neighbourliness. Well designed shop fronts, shop signs, night signs and advertisement can help improving civic design if appropriate architectural framework is provided for shopping centres. Whatever scheme is produced on paper or in model form the important thing is to visualise it as part of the townscape. Pattern should be related to human scale.
The urbanite is mostly a wage earner in offices or in industrial establishments. This attracts rural population and cause congestion in cities. Most urban maladies and civic ugliness are directly traceable to their concentration. While the type of structure and architectural treatment might vary, the basic consideration is their numbers and location. Civic design which neglects these two aspects can never secure for the civic organism balance and harmony—the basis of civic aesthetics. Zoning is as much vital town planning as it is to urban design and bears the same relationship as dispersal to urban betterment. The architecture and setting of these structures need considerable care and study as they constitute the bulk of buildings in any urban community and form the dominant part of every modern city.
The caption of Henry Churchill’s book “The City is the people” reflects the importance of the citizen and his home in urbanism. We should make our towns beautiful not merely in sports, but all over. Convenient, not just for a few rich people with chauffeured limousines, but for everybody. Fit for the pursuit of happiness, free from the scourging and shoving, the din and confusion and all the nerve punishing aspects of urban life that now make people dread the city. To quote Sir Ebenezer Howard, “no city will ever be an ideal city unless it provides the essential conditions for living well for all the people. The individual house is the unit to be considered in every scheme of town planning”.
The problems of urban housing are perhaps worse in Asia than in any other part of the world, concluded the UNESCO Report on ‘Urbanisation in Asia and Far East’ published in 1958. But the problem of urban housing depends for its satisfactory solution, on many complicated issues. The location and design of residential estates, the design of the dwelling, the neighbourhood aspect and amenities for healthful existence of the citizen and his family are all vital to civic design. Uncontrolled and unplanned urbanisation and congestion have created inhuman conditions of living, slums and sores on civic aesthetics. Civic design which leaves the problem out of consideration will not be worth the name. Spread of democracy which aims at the good of all has shifted the centre of gravity from the palaces of the monarchs to the humble homes of the common man—the urban worker.
Not only should the residential estates be functionally and aesthetically satisfactory but each individual building should be satisfactory in relation to the whole city and a bad building makes the setting vulgar both individually and socially. Bath room windows and soil pipes are necessary for hygiene but why make them the most prominent feature of the facade. The functions of a house resemble the functions of the body in that they are not all equally suitable for public emphasis. It is not necessary to the expression which is proper to a building, that every compartment of a house should reveal its exact location and purpose.
The dominating aspect of our urban landscape is public buildings and it should be the foremost consideration in civic design to produce a pleasing impression. The true axiom should be that public buildings to be rightly placed must fit in exact way with the general formation of the city and they should dominate by virtue of their purpose. In other words monumental architecture should be designed and built not only to satisfy administrative conditions but to be admired by the general public.
The tendency today is to force the commercial issues regardless of everything else. This is why the great works of architecture are in danger of being dwarfed by masses of office buildings and business houses built by speculators on sites totally unsuited for such development. In any study of civic art the grouping of public buildings is of the first importance. In all groupings of civic buildings the importance of the vistas must be taken into account. The finest frontispiece any city could have is the Place de la Concorde for which Paris is justly proud.
The greatest achievement an architect can hope for is to be entrusted with the design of civic monuments. It is a task of great dignity to be entrusted with the creation of a setting which will satisfy posterity that beauty should always accompany everyday life. We judge the culture of other times by works of art and it is by similar work that our generation will be judged. Architectural bad manners are often shown in the way that buildings ignore each other, and actually insult each other, in the public highway. They ignore each other when their arrangements take no account of the distinction between buildings in isolation and buildings in congregation. If proper civic values are to be observed public buildings must be given a prominence which no shop or private house should be allowed to emulate. It is one of the chief arguments against sky scraper hotels, vast calumniated shops, and steepled picture theatres that they render it impossible to give sufficient emphasis to the most important public buildings. Character in building is little more than the expression of a species of department, and if a newspaper office or a business house has a tower bigger than that of a town hall it is an affront and belongs to the category of bad manners.
The art of civic design is akin to the popular art of dress. A building exists for the benefit of the people who live in it rather than of the masons employed upon its construction. In architecture the social aspect is far more important than any question of construction or craftsmanship. Various utilitarian purposes of architecture can be sufficiently well fulfilled without ignoring its most suitable human aspects. Just as there are occasions when we must dress in a manner which is not wholly comfortable there are occasions when not only the convenience of town planning but a consideration of the beauty of the architecture itself and the dignity of its communal expression dictate that certain kinds of buildings in certain quarters of the town should be comparatively close together and in a continuous form to safeguard its popularity by preventing it from being viewed in a wrong perspective.
Civic design is therefore more than a question of artistic buildings. It emphasises a wider range of values and rouses our imagination to the vital issues of urban civilisation and culture. Its aim is not remedying the ugliness of our cities by piecemeal adornments a fine building here, a wide street there, patching the growing suburb with various types of cottages, singular and anaemic. We should start thinking in terms of the urban organism rather in terms of cities and cities and individual buildings. We should also regard the city as a living organism and understand that it must make and remake its material shell as its purpose varies and its ideal develops.
As urban society is a living and growing organism, civic design should cater for changing patterns of urban life Without an intelligent appraisal of the future, it would get outmoded. Heralding the Garden City movement, Sir Ebenezer Howard claimed in 1898 that his was the third alternative in which all advantages of the most energetic and active town life, with all the beauty and delight of the country, may be secured in perfect combination. But Letchworth (1905) and Welwine (1919) became urban centres with the life and work associated with the conventional towns except they were more pleasantly laid out than the usual urban development of the time.
To ensure that posterity enjoys the fruits of our efforts, we should visualise how urbanism would be, years hence. But how many can conceive the picture correctly. As Trevelyan says in his English History “Man had acquired formidable tools for refashioning his life before he had given the least thought to the question of what sort of life it would be well for him to fashion”. We, therefore, see unfortunate results of piecemeal approach to urban problems.
Our towns and cities though spared destruction from the skies are nevertheless as much in need of major operation as those of Europe. They have drifted into a predicament that is growing steadily worse. For all the present talk of town planning, understanding and agreement as to just what it means is still very far.
“Comfortable wholesome family life is being pushed right out of existence in Calcutta. It has already vanished to the extent of 45 per cent. An acute house famine prevails and increases”, stated Mr. Richards in his Report on Calcutta—written forty-five years ago, and the statement is still true! Public men and civic authorities are so much engrossed with the matter of fact problems surrounding them that call for immediate solution and they are so perplexed with the task of attempting to tinker existing bad conditions that are results of past neglect that they have no time to give thought to general principles or to the exercise of foresight in preventing the repetition of the same evils in the future, they deplore in the present. It is the knowledge of the importance and value of civic design that can lead to a new form of intellectual activity amongst our public men.
We can make our cities beautiful only when the common man craves for it and our sacred duty is to tell him what it is and how he should achieve. No artist is so entirely dependent upon public support as is the civic designer. To remodel a town or even to make a very slight change in its appearance he must persuade a large body of people that the alteration he proposes is for the general good. Having first acquired definite opinions upon the nature of civic design he must proceed to popularise his art by some means or other that civic design is of vital importance to the average man. Like other arts, civic design has two main aspects, subject and form. The form is the social use and purpose of the building or embellishment. The form is the aesthetical relationship of its parts and it is reflected in the degree of beauty with which the satisfaction of the utilitarian demand is accomplished. It is easier to interest the average man in the subject than in the form of civic design. It is necessary to associate civic design with some other subjects popular among the people and present in their thoughts. It was the improvement of health which secured popular support for town planning acts, for people anxious for this were more numerous than the planners. Will our civic authorities profit by these lessons?
The mistaken idea that all buildings arc machines, and should be expressed as such in planning and elevational treatment, has led to a total misconception of the dramatic subtlety architecture should possess and for the neglect of civic design. According to Sir Alfred Richardson, President of the Royal Academy, the birth of modernism, town planners seeking inspiration in formulating statistics which have little bearing on art, abandonment of historical studies in schools of architecture, and the decreasing attention to pictorial effect and the revoking of the whole idea of humanism in the arts—are responsible for the neglect of civic design.
Today the value of comprehensive and graceful development is not wholly accepted for the purpose seems to be strictly utilitarian. In classical times this need was fully understood with much benefit to the art and a heritage to posterity. The fact that the public buildings call for special handling not only in themselves but in the relationship they should have, the one with the other, besides general siting, is almost invariably overlooked, or what it worse, grossly misrepresented. What is most essential is a restudy of the basic principles and qualities of civic art. The most desirable attribute is that of humane proportion; the next is modelling, while the third concerns neighbourly views. Added to all three there is the characteristic of dramatic effect.
The causes influencing the outward aspects of the city are of the widest imaginable range, embracing the whole life of man and it is hardly possible to conceive of any factors whether physical, psychological, racial or social that do not act and are not themselves reacted on, by the structural environment of the community. The ideal influences are more powerful than the material ones, although it is the fashion to regard the urban community mainly from the economic stand-point.
The varying importance attached to emotional influence of one kind or other must be regarded as one of the causes making for difference in the character of cities among the nations. It is useless to pretend indifference to influences that are even dormant. The city has a soul and the outward shell, we control and design, should preserve it. “I have considered Delhi as a city without a soul, it is only Government and nothing else” said Mr. Munshi in November last. Imitation may make New Delhi an anaemic caricature of New York, but will not restore the soul she has lost. Nor can the battle of styles raging in her streets under the guise of modernism make her townscape enchanting. The advent of new methods and materials may warrant a change but do not justify copying, in the realms of artistic creation and civic aesthetics. We will do well to preserve our culture and character of our cities for the pleasure and delight of the civilized world.
Western structure should not be blindly imitated but whatever designs were good should be adapted to suit local requirements, said our Prime Minister Nehru deprecating the tendency to imitate blindly western architecture, while laying the foundation stone of the Secretariat Buildings at Bhopal in November last. I commend his exhortation for the serious consideration of every architect-planner, administrator and civic authority associated with the control and creation of urban beauty through civic design.